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Table of Contents
- What is cryptography?
- Digital Certificates
- What is a digital certificate?
- How do digital certificates work?
- Digital Signatures
- What is a digital signature?
- How do digital signatures work?
- Digital Certificates vs. Digital Signatures. What is the difference?
What is cryptography?
Cryptography is associated with the process of converting plain text into unintelligible text and vice versa. It is a method of storing and transmitting data in a certain form so that only those for whom it is intended can read it and process it.
Cryptography is not only be used for user authentication, but it also protects data from theft or alteration. In this context, we find two security methods increasingly used in the growing world of electronic payments and eWallets that operate precisely through cryptographic processes: digital certificates and digital signatures.
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What is a digital certificate?
A digital certificate, also known as a public key certificate or identity certificate, is an electronic “password” that enables a business or an individual to securely exchange information over the Internet using the public key infrastructure (PKI).
The number of people and companies online keeps increasing. As Internet access becomes faster and cheaper, users spend more and more time connected to the Internet to communicate personally and conduct business transactions.
The Internet is an open communication network that was not initially designed with security in mind. Criminals have discovered that they can exploit their weaknesses to make a fraudulent profit. If the Internet is to function as a business and communication tool, users must be able to communicate in a secure environment. Thanks to security methods such as digital certificates, this is now possible.
Indeed, this cryptographic method is widely used due to the number of factors it offers: security of identification, confidentiality, integrity and control of access to our information and personal data on the network.
How do digital certificates work?
A digital certificate is used to cryptographically link ownership of a public key to the entity that holds it. Digital certificates are for sharing public keys that will be used for encryption and authentication. These include the public key being certified, identification information of the entity owning the public key, metadata related to the digital certificate, and a digital signature of the public key created by the certificate issuer.
Distribution, authentication, and revocation of digital certificates are the primary objectives of the public key infrastructure (PKI), the system by which public keys are distributed and authenticated.
Public key cryptography depends on two keys: one is a private key that must be retained by the owner and used for signing and decrypting, and the other is a public key that can be used to encrypt data sent to the owner of the public key or to authenticate the signed data of the certificate holder. In this way, the digital certificate allows entities to share their public key so that it can be authenticated.
Digital certificates are used in a number of public-key cryptography operations; nevertheless, they are most often used to initiate secured SSL connections between browsers and web servers. Digital certificates are also used to share keys that will be used for public key encryption and digital signature authentication.
Another example of the use of digital certificates is found in major browsers and web servers. They use them to ensure that the published content has not been modified by unauthorized agents and to share keys for encrypting and decrypting web content. Digital certificates are also used in other contexts, both online and offline, to provide cryptographic security and data privacy.
What is a digital signature?
When we talk about digital signature we refer to the mathematical method used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document. Although it may at first appear to be the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature or stamp, a digital signature differs in that it offers much more inherent security, thus solving the problem of identity manipulation and identity theft in digital communications.
The main advantage of digital signatures is that they provide additional guarantees of proof of origin, identity and status of a document, transaction or electronic message, in addition to recognizing the signer’s consent.
The use of this cryptographic method can be different depending on what we want to do with the signature: to validate that the document is issued by us, to express conformity with some legal documents such as the signing of an employment contract and even to ensure that the content of the message cannot be modified.
How do digital signatures work?
This is when cryptography comes into play, and that is because digital signatures are indeed based on public-key cryptography, also known as asymmetric cryptography. Using a public key algorithm, such as RSA, two keys, which are mathematically linked, can be generated: one private and one public.
Digital signatures work because public-key cryptography depends on these two mutually authenticated cryptographic keys. The person creating the digital signature uses his or her own private key to encrypt the signature-related data; the only way to decrypt that data is with the signer’s public key. This is how digital signatures are authenticated.
It is important to note that digital signature technology requires all parties to trust that the person creating the signature has been able to keep their own private key in secret. If another person has access to the signer’s private key, that party could create fraudulent digital signatures on behalf of the private key holder.
Digital Certificates vs. Digital Signatures. What is the difference?
The digital signature is used to verify authenticity, integrity, that is, it ensures that the message is sent by the known user and is not modified. However, the digital certificate is used to verify the identity of the user, either the sender or the recipient. Therefore, although the digital signature and the certificate are different things, both are used for security reasons. Most websites use digital certificates to improve user confidence.